Halloween Screams Prosperity

This is a repost. This blog was first published on 10/22/2018.

I have always loved Halloween.  I love the decorations and skeletons, the pumpkins and hayrides, the scary movies and haunted houses.  As a child, I loved the candy and annual costume parade around my elementary school.  I loved going door to door trick-or-treating with my dad and brother.  We crunched through the woods on fallen leaves taking shortcuts from one street to the next.  When we finally made it home to Mom our bags were overflowing because Dad always kept us out longer than the designated trick-or-treat time.

As an adult, I have not lost my childlike love of Halloween.  I enjoy pulling out my life-size skeleton and other decorations as much as I enjoy putting up my Christmas tree.  On Halloween night, I play the same “Sounds of Halloween” tape my mom used to play as I give too much candy to trick-or-treaters.  My love of haunted houses has evolved to trips to Tampa and Orlando for Howl-O-Scream and Halloween Horror Nights.

Born and raised in West Virginia, I have noticed a few subtle differences in how people celebrate Halloween there versus in Florida.  In West Virginia, we carve our pumpkins mid-October to display them outside our houses and get in the holiday spirit (pun intended!).  Depending on the weather, a good pumpkin might hold its shape through most of November.  I was saddened my first Halloween in Florida when my friends told me I should wait until Halloween day to carve my pumpkin if I wanted it to be at peak scariness for Halloween night.  Within two days my pumpkin was a rotting, stinking mess.  In addition to my pumpkin-carving schedule, my preference for costumes also changed when I moved to Florida.  While I used to prefer warm costumes or ones that would allow for additional layers underneath (witch), I now prefer costumes that aren’t too hot (pirate).

Despite these minor differences, most of my Halloween traditions remain the same: I watch scary movies, decorate the house and yard, and spend a lot of money on candy, costumes, and haunted houses.  On a recent trip, I visited a chocolatier and spent $18 on six chocolates that collectively form a skeleton.  While I’m slightly embarrassed to admit how much I spent on those six chocolates, I’m certainly not the only person spending money this season.  The National Retail Federation projects that Americans will spend $9 billion on Halloween in 2018.  Of the roughly 70% of us who will celebrate Halloween, we’ll spend an average of $87 per person.  Not surprisingly, the majority of this spending is on costumes ($3.2 billion), decorations ($2.7 billion), and candy ($2.6 billion).

Halloween spending to reach $9 Billion _ National Retail Federation

As I’ve already said, I love Halloween.  It stimulates my imagination and sweet tooth and brings to mind precious childhood memories.  Halloween for me is family, friends, and traditions.  I also appreciate Halloween as an economist and social scientist.  While I could write a post about the supply and demand of candy, costumes, and pumpkin spice lattes, Halloween to me is more about culture, human behavior, and economic development.

Some people may lament the amount of money Americans spend on Halloween and disparage the commercialization of another holiday. I, however, see the fact that we will spend almost $9 billion this year as a sign of unprecedented prosperity.  Only in a prosperous country can approximately 18% of Halloween celebrants buy costumes for their pets (in case you are wondering, the most popular pet costume this year is the pumpkin).

Whether you are young or old, grew up in Florida or some other state, celebrate Halloween or El Día de los Muertos, I argue there is no better place to enjoy this season than the United States.  Here, our economic and political institutions (imperfect as they may be) afford us the relative freedom and wealth to celebrate Halloween, and all holidays, as we so choose.

carrie lee

Dr. Carrie Lee is an Associate Teaching Professor in the Department of Economics. 

The featured image is from History.com.

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